September 26, 2012

Grant helps SUNY students with dementia research


---- — PLATTSBURGH — It may be possible to improve the quality of life for those affected by dementia and Alzheimer’s disease just by doing a little exercise.

A year-long study researching whether exercise can improve the cognitive, physical and psychological capabilities of people age 55 and older will begin this fall because of efforts put forth by two SUNY Plattsburgh students who wanted to do more for their community.

The project of Alanna Darling, a fitness and wellness major, and Azaliah Tautfest, a nursing major and licensed nursing assistant, developed quickly after their mentor, Dr. Taher Zandi, encouraged them to apply for the Chapel Hill Fellowship, an award exclusive to Plattsburgh students researching to improve the life of the elderly.

This type of research is a first-time experience for all three. Zandi saw the potential to help the aging community from an interdisciplinary approach after meeting the students and realizing their unique specializations could mingle to create the perfect storm.

“The experiment will try to show how the mind and body are connected,” Zandi said. “Even after the mind has already begun to decline, you can reinforce the body.”

It’s widely recognized by the medical community that exercise has both mental and physical benefits for all who do it, but this experiment specifically looks at whether exercise could potentially slow down the progression of dementia.

Darling was Zandi’s personal trainer. Through day-to-day conversation, Darling told Zandi about the progress she saw in her clients at the Third Age Adult Day Center, a facility that is part of SUNY Plattsburgh’s Alzheimer’s Disease Assistance Center and is located at the campus where she was doing clinical work.

“She would come to me and tell me that she was able to get some of the patients to walk around Sibley Hall three times,” Zandi said. “I couldn’t believe it.

“The exercise did something for the patients. When people get out and walk, they’re a little more cooperative.”

Tautfest was a student of Zandi’s last spring when he encouraged her to apply for the fellowship and meet Darling.

“It all happened really fast. We (me and Darling) met on a Friday and had limited time to put it together,” Tautfest said. “It was very abstract and a little overwhelming at first.”

They pulled together the proposal over the weekend, submitted it to the Chapel Hill Foundation and were ecstatic to hear that they were rewarded for their efforts and ambition to do something more for the community.

“It wasn’t about just putting an issue out there; it was about doing something about it,” Tautfest said.

About 20 volunteers from Third Age will participate in the study, which will feature an evenly divided control group and experimental group.

Darling and Tautfest will administer a series of pre-tests and post-tests for each group, after receiving medical consent from the patients’ legal caretakers and an individual review from the participants’ physicians to address the needs and limitations of each patient. 

Darling will administer mild exercises, beginning the classes with stretching and then moving on to gradually build strength training and balance and flexibility. She’ll spend about an hour and a half each day with groups of five to ensure she can give the one-on-one time needed.

Tautfest will analyze the patients’ vitals and see if there are any changes after the activities, with the hope that improvements will be made in both their physical and mental state.

“The assessment may take a long time,” Tautfest said. “If we can improve the activity of daily living, it may affect self-worth and improve their lives.”